The El Nino of 2015/2016 was unforgiving, decimating crops, drying up water sources and cutting communities in the Papua New Guinea Highlands adrift, as they either suffered in remote areas or left home for lower altitudes in search of water and food.
With the support of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Caritas Australia, Caritas PNG quickly responded with food and water for those in urgent need. But as with every emergency, the long-term focus of the response is to ensure that communities are better prepared for the next emergency through Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies.
“The importance of DRR can’t be overstated. At the start of 2016, people had lost crops, kaukau and kumara were rotten and access to food was limited,” says Mark Mitchell, Caritas Senior Humanitarian Programmes Coordinator, following a recent trip to villages and communities in the PNG Highlands that were badly affected.
“As a result of programmes like this, communities are more resilient to future droughts and frosts, which we are already seeing with more frequency and increasing severity due to climate change.”
Building such resilience is done through ensuring more stable and reliable water sources through rain harvesting and storage, and training local people in improved agricultural techniques with drought-resistant crops. Partnering with the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute to train locals also means the standard of training is at a very high level and most relevant to the trainees.
“It’s really good to see the training hasn’t stopped with those who initially received training, but has been repeated at the community level and widely accepted,” Mark says.